Where Did I Go?

Saturday, 14 March 2009 14:17
shipitfish: (Default)

I wrote a lot in 2007, my last year playing poker professionally, about why I was making that my last year of playing professionally. Once I stopped playing poker for the money, I became much of a consumer rather than an active player in the regular poker world.

Over the last year and a half, I've followed the poker podcasts carefully. BTW, I prefer the 2+2 Pokercast, hosted by the Canadian Rounders guys, but I also find most of Joe Sebok's Poker Road Radio shows pretty good.

I always watch the High Stakes Poker episodes eventually, and try to track down every cash-game televised poker, such as the weeks Poker After Dark does cash games. I don't watch tournament coverage much anymore; I never liked tourneys that much and the coverage has remained poor — never actually showing the interesting bits, and instead favoring the obvious moments of the tourney.

As for playing, I have no interest in online play. The HE games are tougher than ever for stakes that one can actually earn at, and the competition from the hundreds of amazingly talented young guys is daunting. Meanwhile, sitting there playing at stakes below $1/$2 NL doesn't seem worth worth it when I have other useful things to do (see below). I continue to have an annual trip to Las Vegas (which I enjoyed last month, perhaps I'll make some later posts about that), and I usually organize my business travel so I can tack-on a day or two of personal travel for live poker, when there's nearby legalized poker.

Thing is, when I stopped playing poker professionally, the only thing I really missed was the additional income I'd come to rely on a bit, given my meager non-profit 501(c)(3) salary. Almost serendipitously, though, in early 2008, my dear friend and fellow Free Software developer, Loïc Dachary, told me he needed some software development help on the Free Software poker system, PokerSource, that he'd begun working on around 2002. He and I negotiated a rate that was actually higher than even my best rate that I ever earned hourly playing poker, and I went to work on the weekends to hack some Python Free Software poker software.

I didn't really mention that work here over the last year, partly because the first question I expected was where is your Free Software poker system deployed?, and I didn't have an adequate answer. However, a few months ago, the answer became easy: We have a play money site now deployed and operating daily at SkyRock Poker. (SkyRock is a French social network and blogging site that also offers games and entertainment to its subscribers.)

One of the cool things about our software is that it's one of the only systems that offers a fully functional pure Javascript client that runs completely in the browser with no plugins needed. It's very easy to skin and configure with branding, as can be seen when you look at Pokersource.eu, our demo site which runs the same software as SkyRock, but has no branding and skinning done to it.

Writing poker software has, honestly, been substantially more rewarding than actually playing. First of all, it was amazing to discover that I had been so influenced by professional poker play that I perceived having a “real consulting job” as a “freeroll”. When I started working on pokersource paid work, I would think: if I work for an hour, I'm up my hourly rate immediately! I can't lose!. How poker-warped are you when you think doing a regular job is a freeroll? I suppose it helps that I've always enjoyed programming just as much as I ever enjoyed playing poker.

Meanwhile, the truth of the matter about playing is that I never got good enough to beat games from $5/$10 NL/PL and up and $20/$40 limit and up. I don't think I'm incapable of that, but I know it would require months of work, study, and practice that seems somewhat pointless to me now. As basically a recreational player now, I love the feeling of sitting down in a $1/$2 or $2/$5 NL/PL game (or a $5/$10 limit game) and simply knowing within minutes of playing that I'm the best player at the table and don't have to work too hard to make a little spare cash while having an enjoyable distraction from real life for a few hours. It's never enough money to make a substantial difference in income, but I also never lose without seriously running bad against luck. And, even the variance isn't that painful since the stakes are low; I can survive with the loss for six months until my next session.

I guess I've settled into the routine of being a part-time professional poker software author, and a few-times-a-year recreational poker player. Meanwhile, I'll also never forget on of the most valuable life lessons that I learned from poker. Poker turned me into a patient person, and the value of that will always make the past hours at the felt worthwhile. I'm also quite glad that I've come to the PokerSource team as the poker expert who knows the poker world and how it works. My colleagues in the PokerSource project are some of my best friends (well, Loïc was already one of my best friends since long before he started writing poker software, but I am in touch with him much more now that I'm working weekly with him on projects). My PokerSource work has become the perfect combination of my Free Software world connections and my forays into poker. Indeed, I certainly like being the primary person who crosses over between the Free Software world and the poker world. That wouldn't have been possible without those uncounted hours throwing chips and cards and getting felt under my fingernails.

shipitfish: (cincinnati-kid-betting)

I thought I'd mention briefly the story that has had the online poker world going since the first 2+2 posts last month showed one player's 100% river aggression factor. The story ends with Absolute Poker's executives using “root” accounts to swindle online players by knowing their exact card holdings in high stakes cash games and high buy-in tournaments.

I won't go through the details of the story; I've been following it from a distance (since my poker time is limited these days), so I would probably get a few details wrong. Since I have more time to listen things while commuting than reading stuff online, I got the best summary of this situation from this week's episode of the Rounders podcast. Also, two posts that [livejournal.com profile] extempore (aka Paul Phillips) made give some good details. (I am not a true NYC'er, BTW, because I can't read easily on the subway and listen to podcasts instead.)

I had suggested before that perception of badly written software and not true “rigging” would ultimately be a serious problem for online poker. I think I'm going to declare myself as somewhere between 30%-50% right about that.

Some might say this situation shows that Absolute was “rigged”, since it was an inside job. Executives at the company held the root account, and used it to view everyone's cards and gain huge edges against their customers. But, putting on my hat as information technology expert for a moment, I argue that this is a software problem as much as anything else.

The software should never had this feature. There is no good reason that standard client software, used from an off-site location, should have had the ability to receive hidden card information before the cards were exposed in the hand. Indeed, the network protocol itself should never even send hidden card information until the completion of the hand (if at all).

The idea that the network protocol sent opponents' hole card information over the wire before shows simply bad system design and programming. There is no reason to do this, and a hundred reasons not to. Had the software not been designed this way, the only cheating temptation our friendly Absolute executive would have involved modifying the server software himself to send him card information in real time somehow. Maybe the guy was a smart software developer or system administrator and could have pulled off the job himself, but I doubt it.

Finally, to bring my personal politics into this, this is why I firmly believe that all poker server software should be Open Source and Free Software (FOSS). There is no competitive advantage for these poker sites to gain from having server software that differs; their branding, interface, and other edges happen on the client side. (I happen to think client software should be FOSS too, but that's a harder argument.) The argument for FOSS server technology for all online poker is clear and simple. Players should be allowed to examine the code to be sure only their authenticated accounts can receive their hidden cards.

Of course, only the site administrators should be allow to change the versions of this FOSS running on their own servers, but they should publish that source for public inspection. That's the only way online poker can actually be safe from these sorts of challenges.

BTW, full disclosure: A good friend of mine is the premiere developer in the world of FOSS poker technology. His site has some useful and interesting stuff. I must admit, I am jealous sometimes that his day job is writing FOSS poker software, but I still hope his software gains more adoption in reaction to these events.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

As my regular readers know, I am actually only a part-time poker player. I have a day job in the Open Source and Free Software field.

Anyway, I just noticed that Sunday night, my worlds collided again, as they do on occasion. Robert Boyd announced that the Pokerspot source code has been released.

Those who weren't around for the extreme early days of online poker (when all we had was PlanetPoker, where I refused to play; I didn't start playing myself until Pokerroom came along and made a client that ran on GNU/Linux). Back in those days, Robert Boyd, along with his brother (the now ESPN.famous Dutch Boyd) called PokerSpot. Their site failed due to payment processors going bankrupt, leading to cashflow problems, panic, and a scenario akin to a bank collapse.

There's more history than that, and some people claim Robert and Dutch stole money. What really happened is their business failed, like so many others, and they couldn't pay their creditors, which included in part the “bankroll investors” in their site. This doesn't upset me much, and wouldn't even if I'd lost money myself, because there are serious risks in putting your money into anything (including your mattress — after all, the currency could always suffer mass-inflation now that the gold standard only exists in history books). Of the risky places to put your money, poker sites have always been one of the most dangerous.

That aside, I'm glad that Robert did the right thing with the source code, even if it is only marginally useful. Companies that fail should always do this with their software. Otherwise, it sits and bit-rots on hard drives in warehouses. I'd like to see someone use the software to study the code base to look for errors and mistakes that could have caused games to be run incorrectly. It would be a useful service to the industry and of historical interest in considering the questions of how likely it was that software problems caused any incorrect game play in the early days of online poker.

However, we have another hoop to jump through before that can happen. Those of you that know something about Open Source and Free Software will notice that Robert did not actually DTRT here, because he failed to put a proper license notice on the software indicating what license it is under. I've written to Robert and explained this to him and encouraged him to put the GPL on it. Update: Robert decided to license the software under a GPL-compatible license (a modified BSD) and has updated the SVN repository with the licensing information.

(My clueful readers will note that since the server code clearly includes Poker Source, that it would be a GPL violation for Robert to release the rest of the server software under a GPL-incompatible license. You'd of course be right, but it's much better if we get clarity from Robert on the front end on his own accord. Ok, everyone, now you know how boring my day job is and why I don't keep a journal about it. :)

I should, since I'm talking about Open Source and Free Software online poker, put in a strong plug, as always, for my great friends over at Mekensleep who are the authors of Pok3d. I haven't played their site yet because it's a 3D only client and I don't have a machine to run it on (I use only laptops and extremely old server hardware in my personal life), although they're working on a mundane 2D client like we're used to on other sites. Of course, I can't buy in now either because I live in the USA. But, I encourage my non-USA readers with 3D-capable hardware to give it a go!

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